Cubs past, present welcome hockey
Dempster, Samardzija, Sandberg, Jenkins, Williams attend Winter Classic
CHICAGO -- You wouldn't have known Ryan Dempster was a $52 million baseball star on New Year's Day. The Cubs pitcher and hockey buff watched the Winter Classic game from the (relatively) cheap seats at Wrigley Field.
"It's awesome, I love it, being here at Wrigley, to be on the other side, sitting in the stands, watching it and being a spectator," Dempster said before the game on his way to his upper-deck seats. "Not to knock being in a suite, I'm sure it's nice and cozy, but to be a fan is pretty cool. I'll be freezing my butt off."
In sub-30 degree temperatures, Dempster was joined by teammate Jeff Samardzija and Cubs Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams in welcoming hockey to their home for the first time. The legends joined Blackhawks greats Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Denis Savard in pregame ceremonies, including a ceremonial puck drop. Dempster toured the snow-covered field before the game, shaking hands, conducting interviews and acting as a quasi-ambassador for its summer inhabitants.
Getting to see the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in person brought back memories.
"I remember having a small black-and-white TV in my bedroom and sitting there watching 'Hockey Night in Canada' when I was 5 years old," said Dempster, a native of British Columbia. "I've just loved hockey my whole life. To sit there and have a hockey game at your home baseball field, it's kind of like the best of both worlds. I wasn't a strong enough skater to do anything special in hockey, but I've always had a passion for it."
Sandberg's hockey experience is limited to watching Blackhawks games at the now-extinct Chicago Stadium in the 1980s. Still, he cherished the unique event.
"It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity, very cool out there, a great atmosphere," Sandberg said. "There was quite a buzz."
Unlike Dempster and Sandberg, Jenkins was quite the stick handler as a youth in Ontario. He didn't give up the sport until just before signing with the Phillies at the age of 19. Along with retired hockey greats Ted Lindsay of Detroit and Chicago's Hull, Jenkins dropped the first puck at center ice on Thursday.
The resulting crowd roar? He had heard that before.
"It was similar, like an All-Star Game," said Jenkins, a three-time All-Star who turned 65 in December. "It's another sport, but to play it here at Wrigley Field, where I played and coached for years, it's a great experience."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.